Check out the full Latino Socio-Economic Study -Patricia
Staff Report | The Stamford Times
April 1, 2008
As Connecticut's largest minority group and the fastest-growing segment of the population here and nationwide, Latinos are an important barometer of the state of the state.
According to a comprehensive study released Wednesday, pessimism and concern permeate a population that sees itself as unable to afford the cost of living and are underrepresented in positions of power that lead to change.
The fourth Latino Socio-Economic Study in 10 years was presented by the Latino and Puerto Rican Affairs Commission in conjunction with the Center for Research and Public Policy. The study included a survey of 800 adults, 50 students between 13 and 18 years of age, 200 people identified by the LPRAC as leaders in the Latino community, and three focus-group interviews in the state's three largest cities.
Nearly 23 percent of the respondents were from Fairfield County.
"It's very important that we're releasing this study," said LPRAC executive director Fernando Betancourt. "Perhaps even more important is what we're going to do with it."
Another apt question might be where to begin addressing the many aspects of inadequacy highlighted by Connecticut's Latinos. The biggest concerns among adults were taxes, health insurance, poor public education, and the cost of living.
Only 33.4 percent of participants said their quality of life was better now than two years ago, a significant fall-off from the 56.4 percent who said the same in 2002, the last time the study was conducted.
Betancourt said the LPRAC was surprised by the "dramatic drop in the overall quality-of-life perception that is reflected on every single page of that report."
He said health care and the cost of living, especially for housing, were his top priorities.
Just 51.5 percent of those surveyed said they thought housing was affordable, down from 74.5 percent in 2002.
Coming at the onset of talk of economic recession and the subprime mortgage crisis (the study was conducted in October and November of 2007), some of the feelings reflected in the survey might be a measure of discontent in the overall population. The 11.3 percent of the state population that considers itself Latino is more than enough to make it a statistically-significant sample, and Betancourt estimated that there is a further five percent that goes uncounted.
But LPRAC Commissioner Ed Rodríguez said the Latino experience is complicated by many issues, including the group's exclusion from decision-making positions, a phenomenon confirmed by a study released earlier this month by Secretary of the State Susan Bysiewicz, that showed severe under-representation of Latinos and other minorities on state boards and commissions.
"The implication of the exclusion is an inequality of life and standard of living. What happens when a community starts experiencing a decline in its standard of living and quality of life?" Rodríguez asked rhetorically. "They become more dependent on the state. Health care costs go up, they can't afford insurance, kids experience higher dropout rates from high school."
Rodríguez said the study was only as good as the action taken in its wake. Considering a more than 50-percent high school dropout rate among Latinos, immediate action is imperative, he said.
"We urge our legislators and our governor to please embrace this study," he said. "It lays the foundation to help our community. I know that we in the Latino and Puerto Rican Affairs Commission will be using this as our foundation."
The dropout rate provides a curious juxtaposition with one of the positive results of the study — 88 percent of the middle- and high-school students interviewed said they were somewhat or very likely to attend college. Ninety percent said they were at least somewhat likely to get into the college of their choice.
Of course, getting in and being able to pay are two distinct barriers of tertiary education. Thirty percent of the youth respondents said college would not be affordable for them.
Though immigration status was not a qualifying factor for any of the surveys conducted, 16.7 percent of the youth participants and 23 percent of the adults said they were not U.S. citizens. This does not necessarily mean that they are undocumented, but Betancourt made mention Wednesday of the Dream Act, legislation that would allow students who attend and graduate from Connecticut high schools to receive in-state tuition at public universities regardless of their immigration status.
The bill, with LPRAC support, passed the General Assembly in 2007 but was vetoed by Gov. M. Jodi Rell.
In general, Latino leaders were more pessimistic in their analyses of the Latino community's perspective than the community was itself.
Regarding the state HUSKY health care program, for example, 85.5 percent of the adult respondents offered a positive rating while only 48.5 percent of the leaders said Latinos were satisfied with the program.
The complexity of the health care conundrum was demonstrated repeatedly in the study. The 85.1 percent of respondents who reported having health care coverage was an increase from the 78.2 percent who said the same in 2002. However, it was a decrease from the 87 percent who reported coverage in 1997, the first year of the study.
Respondents also said costs were prohibitive. Nearly 16 percent said there was a time in the past 12 months in which they needed to see a doctor but could not because of the cost, perhaps in part because the 57.9 percent that said they receive employer-based coverage was down from 68.3 percent in 2002.
"This is not hearsay," Rodríguez said. "This is not wishful thinking; this is not agenda-driven; this is not what we as the commission would want you to believe is important based on our understanding of the needs of our community. This is what 95 out of 100 Hispanics in the state are telling you is important to them," he added, in reference to the 95-percent confidence rating of the study sample.
On a positive note, Center for Research and Public Policy president Jerry Lindsley offered improved statistics on mammogram, blood pressure and cholesterol screenings as evidence that education programs on preventive care were working. Smoking was also down significantly, from 23.1 percent in 2002 to 15.9 percent last year.
The most cynical perspectives in the study were directed at the state's judicial court system. Just 41.5 percent of adult respondents offered a "positive trust rating" of the courts. Up from 22.4 percent in 2002, Betancourt said the survey showed there was work to do but also that LPRAC efforts to reach out to the judicial system were slowly taking effect. An increase in the number of trained court interpreters, though still insufficient, was one area of partial improvement, he said.
In reference to the courts, one of the focus group participants said, "I guess they are not fair with everybody, not just Hispanic [sic]," suggesting that the perception was more one of general mistrust than suspected discrimination.
Linguistic confidence was on the rise as well, with 65.5 percent saying they were equally comfortable speaking Spanish as English. Just 49.1 percent said the same in 2002.
Sixty-eight percent said they were registered to vote, a statistic of particular significance in an election year in which the Latino vote has been heavily courted. Almost half - 48 percent - were registered Democrats. The slight increase in unaffiliated voters from 27 percent in 2002 to 28.6 percent 2007 owed in part to a precipitous drop in the number of registered Republicans, from 16.1 percent in 2002 to ten percent in 2007.
There was a 3.5-percent margin for error.
Max Hadler can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org